KIEV, March 6 – A Ukrainian court ordered Monday the arrest of Roman Nasirov, the head of tax and customs, for 60 days as part of an investigation into $75 million tax evasion by a private oil company.
The bail was set at 100 million hryvnias, or $3.7 million, according to the ruling read by Judge Oleksandr Bobrovnyk of the Solomyanskiy district court in Kiev.
Anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky said investigators believe 38-year-old Nasirov helped exiled lawmaker Oleksandr Onishchenko deprive the state of 2 billion hryvnias ($75 million) in tax revenue linked to a gas deal.
Nasirov has previously denied all allegations of graft against him. His office would not immediately comment on the matter.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said Nasirov had been relieved of his duties while the case is pending. "It is in our interest that the investigation be impartial and effective. This issue is very important for Ukrainian society today," he said in a government meeting.
If Nasirov is found guilty, it would be the first successful prosecution of a senior official for graft since the 2014 uprising that ushered in a Western-backed leadership promising to tackle endemic corruption.
"This is the destruction of the unwritten corrupt status quo in the country," said pro-European lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko in a post on Facebook.
"Nasirov will be a valuable witness to the misuse of state money by those in the highest ranks."
Stop-start reforms over the past three years have raised concerns that Ukraine's political elite lacked the will to eradicate a deep-rooted system of cronyism and bribe-taking.
Nasirov's lawyer, Andriy Kuzmenko, confirmed that he was being investigated for embezzlement and said he could face up to six years in prison.
Opposition lawmakers and the finance ministry have previously called for Nasirov to be investigated for abuse of office.
In 2016, Nasirov clashed with an activist appointed to reform the graft-plagued customs of Odessa over her accusation that he had blocked her attempts to fire corrupt officials.
In an online wealth declaration tool aimed at boosting transparency, he disclosed last October that he and his wife held cash in euros and dollars worth $2.2 million and owned Swiss watches, diamond jewelry, fur coats and fine porcelain among other items. He told Reuters in an interview he had earned this money in the financial sector before taking office. (nr/ez)